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Iranian Blogs Dynamic During Election Protests

By John Kelly and Bruce Etling

While Twitter is getting a lot of attention in the current Iranian crisis, it’s good to know that the robust Iranian blogosphere also remains active in the face of the government’s interference with the Internet. The figure below shows new blog posts on, the dominant Iranian blogging platform, over the past three weeks. While some Blogfa users are outside Iran, the vast majority are inside. We can see significant, through sporadic, disruption of Iranian blogging for a period of about two and a half days beginning a day after the disputed election. After that, posting returns to roughly pre-election levels.


What are bloggers talking about? A scan of text reveals high levels of discussion about politics. Many bloggers continue to link to websites supporting Mousavi (such as, whereas linking to the main site supporting Ahmadinejad ( has nearly stopped, including among conservative political bloggers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Web Ecology Research Finds Over 2 Million Tweets About Election in Iran

The Berkman-affiliated Web Ecology project, lead by the Internet & Democracy’s own Tim Hwang, has done some amazing and very timely research on Twitter in Iran. This adds some more quantitative data to our Op-Ed in the Post last week. The key findings:

* From 7 June 2009 until the time of publication (26 June 2009), we have recorded 2,024,166 tweets about the election in Iran.
* Approximately 480,000 users have contributed to this conversation alone.
* 59.3% of users tweet just once, and these users contribute 14.1% of the total number.
* The top 10% of users in our study account for 65.5% of total tweets.
* 1 in 4 tweets about Iran is a retweet of another user’s content.

You can download the full PDF report here.

Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

From Kamangir, who tell us this has been posted on a number of major Iranian blogs:

Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

1) We, a group of Iranian bloggers, strongly condemn the violent and repressive confrontation of Iranian government against Iranian people’s legitimate and peaceful demonstrations and ask government officials to comply with Article 27 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution which emphasizes “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”

2) We consider the violations in the presidential elections, and their sad consequences a big blow to the democratic principles of the Islamic Republic regime, and observing the mounting evidence of fraud presented by the candidates and others, we believe that election fraud is obvious and we ask for a new election.

3) Actions such as deporting foreign reporters, arresting local journalists, censorship of the news and misrepresenting the facts, cutting off the SMS network and filtering of the internet cannot silence the voices of Iranian people as no darkness and suffocation can go on forever. We invite the Iranian government to honest and friendly interaction with its people and we hope to witness the narrowing of the huge gap between people and the government.

A part of the large community of Iranian bloggers

July 26, 2009

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Why Twitter Won’t Bring Revolution To Iran

As a follow-up to last week’s release of our study on the shape of the Arabic blogosphere, happy to post today that Internet and Democracy’s own John Palfrey, Bruce Etling, and Rob Faris have recently published a piece in the Washington Post about the use of Twitter in Iran’s recent election turmoil. Drawing from our previous research here at I&D and some of the latest data that’s being pulled from the use of social media on the ground in Iran, we write:

After all, it appears that people living under authoritarian regimes such as the one in Iran are as addicted to the Internet as the rest of us are. Even though states push back, they can’t keep the Internet down for long without serious blowback from their citizens. Iranian officials have the power to shutter the Internet just as they once clamped down on reformist newspapers, but they may be more concerned now about any move that pushes those watching — or blogging or tweeting — from the sidelines into the throngs of protesters already in the streets.

Definitely worth checking out!

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Internet and Democracy Releases Report on Arabic Blogosphere


After much work over the past year, the Internet and Democracy Project team is proud to officially announce today the release of our study on the Arabic blogosphere, a follow-up to last year’s I&D study on the shape of the Iranian blogosphere. Our research identified a base network of approximately 35,000 blogs, and aimed to generate a baseline for understanding the state of online discourse in the region. As in our previous work, we’ve worked with John Kelly to visualize the data on over 6,000 of the most connected blogs and had researchers read over 4,000 blogs to understand who the bloggers are and the issues they care about. We’re excited to report that there’s some intriguing findings on the state of the networked public sphere in the Middle East, some highlights include:

* The Demographics of Arab Bloggers: Demographic coding indicate that Arabic bloggers are predominately young and male. The highest proportion of women is found in the Egyptian youth sub-cluster, while the Maghreb/French Bridge and Syrian clusters have the highest concentration of men.

* The Makeup of the Arab Online Media Ecosystem: Bloggers link to Web 2.0 sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia (both English and Arabic versions) more than other sources of information and news available on the Internet. Al Jazeera is the top mainstream media source, followed by the BBC and Al Arabiya, while US-government funded media outlets like Radio Sawa and Al Hurra are linked to relatively infrequently.

* The Perception of the United States: The US is not a dominant political topic in Arabic blogs; neither are the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. However, when the US is discussed, it is nearly always in critical terms.

There’s much more here — our study revealed other interesting patterns in the online discussion around extremism, and the online presence of political opposition groups, including Kefaya (Enough) and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

You can get the complete study here. Also be sure to check out our event tomorrow at USIP where John Palfrey, John Kelly, Robert Faris and Bruce Etling will present the results and get reaction from a panel of experts and bloggers from the region. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Cracking Down on Digital Communication and Political Organizing in Iran


Cross-posted on the ONI Blog

The Internet and mobile phones have taken on a major role in Iranian politics over the last several months. As protests over the contested election results continue in Iran, the government has dramatically increased its control over digital technologies. Many important Web sites have been blocked over the past couple of days, including the Web sites of the opposition parties in Iran, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While political organizers have learned to leverage the organizing power of Web 2.0 tools, government censors in Iran are quick to shut them down when they are most effective. None of this is surprising; it reflects similar events seen in many places around the world.

Digital tools have been shown to be effective political organizing tools, from the Obama presidential campaign in the US to Ukraine, Colombia and Moldova. As powerful as new technologies may be as political tools, information and communication technologies have also been proven to be exceedingly fragile; in countries where the government has sufficient latitude to interfere with the use of these tools, they are easily disrupted and if necessary, can be shut down entirely.

The role of information and communication technologies in Iranian politics has matured rapidly over the past year. Political opposition groups in particular have adopted new online and mobile phone-based organizing tactics, using Facebook, Twitter, Web sites, email, cell phones and SMS and the full suite of Web 2.0 tools as mechanisms for political organizing. This is has all taken place in a highly restrictive media environment in which the Internet and other forms of digital communication are intensely regulated. Facebook has been blocked and unblocked several times in the past year. The rationale and legal justifications for censoring Internet communications are broad. Anything construed as anti-Islamic or damaging to the Iranian state can be blocked by what amounts to executive fiat, although there are many voices within the institutions charged with blocking web sites in Iran.

Earlier reports that the government shut down the Internet entirely during the June 12 elections appear to be exaggerated. Jim Cowie at Renesys looked at the evidence from international routing data and indeed found evidence of some strange events in Iran’s traffic to the outside.

However, the Internet is still up in Iran, though reports from inside Iran suggest that it is much slower than normal and a broader range of websites are being blocked. The fact that Iran has invested so much in blocking Internet content might mean that they have greater confidence about keeping tight controls over content available in Iran without shutting down the Internet entirely, as Burma had done in the face of popular protests there.

After a large surge in SMS traffic in the run-up to the election, multiple sources inside Iran reported that the country’s SMS networks went down just nine hours before the polls opened. This is unsurprising, as SMS has been used in many places as a powerful tool for organizing protests. Reporters Without Borders reports that the SMS take-down was part of attempt to prevent opposition supporters from collecting election results.

By Saturday, all mobile phone services had been shut off in Tehran. Plans by an organization led by former president Rafsanjani to carry out election monitoring using cell phones might have factored into this decision. Cell phone service was restored on June 14, but SMS continues to be blocked.

Western media sources have covered the news as it unfolds, although some US media outlets have been criticized for not focusing more attention on the events in Iran. The government has not thrown western journalists out of the country, though it has made reporting difficult. The BBC has traced the jamming of one of its satellites, which has interrupted access to radio and television for audiences in Iran, the Middle East and Europe, to a location inside Iran.

Despite the tightening restrictions on communications tools, citizen journalists inside Iran have been hard at work. Video clips are widely available on the net, as are photos of Iranian voters and post-election protests. Although YouTube and DailyMotion are both blocked, we were able to upload a small video to Vimeo. The generally slow Internet speeds will hinder the upload of large files.

ONI has confirmed the expansion of blocking over the past several days, making access to ongoing reporting of events as well as political organizing far more difficult for Iranians. In the past several days, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been blocked. The English version of BBC is now blocked; the Persian version has been blocked for months. Websites of the major opposition candidates are all blocked, including Mousavi’s website ( and Karoubi’s website ( The blog host,, has been down for several days now, preventing many Iranian bloggers from updating their blogs.

We tested the thirty web sites that receive disproportionate attention from the reformist segments of the Iran blogosphere and about half of these are not blocked, including,,,,,,,,, and Among those not blocked include, and (Thanks to John Kelly for the list of sites that we tested. This is derived from the blogosphere mapping work of John Kelly and Bruce Etling).

In response, some pro-democracy activists are targeting government Web sites with DDOS attacks in an attempt to strike back at the current regime. While they have had some success –,, and were reported to be down – experts worry that the attacks may be used by the Iranian government to justify their own filtering or, worse, may cripple the Iranian network as a whole. (Note: was back up when we tested. and were still down.)

Many years of Internet filtering have prompted the development of circumvention tools by and for Iranians. Many Internet users in Iran have become adept at getting past the Internet censors there. An unintended consequence is that there are many sophisticated users and tools that are prepared to circumvent government attempts to limit access to online sites. This increase in filtering associated with the elections can be expected to increase the demand for access to and knowledge about circumvention technology.

These measures to further limit access to information around the contested election results are not going to help the current the Iranian government if it seeks to build legitimacy.

Mapping Iran’s Blogosphere on Election Eve

By John Kelly and Bruce Etling


Based on our monitoring of the Iranian blogosphere on election eve, it looks like Mousavi has broader support in the online blog community than Ahmadinejad. (For a broader understanding of the different attentive clusters in Iran check out our new online interactive Iran blogosphere map). The below maps show who is linking to websites associated with the candidates. It’s pretty interesting to see the contrast between Ahmadinejad (, whose links are very concentrated in the Conservative Politics cluster, and Mousavi (, whose links come from all over the map, not just the reformist politics group.



We are particularly struck by how many links come from the poetry cluster, which rarely links to political sites. Also, Moussavi has even more links from the CyberShi’a than Ahmadinejad.

This online interest doesn’t necessarily translate to the offline world, but it may indicate a broader level of excitement about Mousavi in the electorate, particularly among those outside his expected base of supporters, which could ultimately lead to higher voter turn out for Mousavi.

As Hamid Tehrani wrote earlier this week, YouTube is being used a lot by Iranians in this election. Here is one of the YouTube videos most linked to by reformists.
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And here is the video most linked to by conservatives, which Hamid pointed to earlier in the week as an example of conservatives trying to discredit Khatami, who has supported Mousavi since he dropped out of the race himself.

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Iran experts caution against trying to predict election winners Iran (because we’ve been surprised before), and we’d caution against predicting a Mousavi win just on this analysis, but it is certainly interesting to see the larger level of online support for Mousavi on the eve of the election. We’ll have to leave it to the voters at this point.

Some additional data and analysis on Iran’s election eve blogosphere is posted on Morningside Analytics Shifting the Debate blog. You can also catch an interview and find all of Hamid Tehrani’s posts on the Internet and the Iranian election on the PBS Web site.

Check back here next week for the big release of our Arabic blogosphere paper and accompanying event at USIP.

Al Jazeera on Mousavi’s New Media Campaign

Following up on Hamid’s post yesterday, Al Jazeera English has a story on how the Mousavi campaign is using the Internet, including Facebook and SMS, to its advantage in the Iranian presidential election. Money quote from the Mousavi campaign:

For us the Internet is like the air force in a military campaign. It bombards the enemy’s positions and lays the groundwork for the infantry, our volunteers, so that they can win battles on the ground.

Minus the military analogy, this is not dissimilar from what we heard from the Obama campaign last year.

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Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

YouTube Shows Different Faces of Iranian Election

By I&D guest blogger Hamid Tehrani, Iran editor of Global Voices and co-founder of the March 18 Movement

The Iranian Presidential election will take place this Friday, and YouTube has been used both by Iranian citizens and politicians as a dynamic instrument during the campaign. Here, I would like to share a few examples to illustrate how YouTube has become a vibrant, interactive medium of expression in the hands of Iranians.

1. Fact Checking: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied, during a televised debate with one of his reformist candidates that he ever claimed a “halo” surrounded him during a U.N. address in 2005. A video clip on YouTube shows that Ahmadinejad did in fact argue that a “light enveloped him during his address to the U.N. General Assembly and that the crowd stared without blinking during the entire speech.”

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2. Demands beyond candidates’ campaign platforms: Rakhshan Bani Etemad,a leading female director, made a film where various women activists talk about their own demands.

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3. Creativity: One video appearing on YouTube compares former Prime Minister, Mir Hussein Mousavi to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the tune of the old Broadway tune, ‘Anything You Can Do’. The text at the end of the film concludes that Mousavi is more rational than Ahmadinejad, whose policies he argues have damaged Iran’s economy

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4. Discrediting the Opposition: There is another YouTube film that targets former Reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, who is campaigning for Mousavi.
A couple of hundred Azeri students held a protest against Khatami for making this joke, and asked Mousavi, who is Azeri himself, to condemn Khatami. Meanwhile, Khatami has claimed the film is a fake montage.

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5. Campaign Events: Mehdi Karroubi, former Speaker of the Parliament, and his supporters forcefully broke through the gates of Amir Kabir University when he was banned by university authorities from delivering his speech.
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6. Campaign films: Candidates promote their own campaign films on YouTube. Ahmadinejad’s supporters published dozens of films to promote his campaign.

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7. Get Out the Vote: Iranians in 25 cities around the world came together to encourage people to vote.

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8. Citizens in motion: Candidates’ supporters are dancing and celebrating each night after each presidential debate.

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I&D Project Launches Interactive Iranian Blogosphere Map


The Internet and Democracy Project team is excited to announce today that we’ve officially launched an online interactive version of our classic study on the shape of the Persian blogosphere that we published earlier last year. The tool allows users to easily sort through the data that we’ve collected on discourse networks in Iran, and explore some notable features of the online blog landscape. The map reveals the clustering of certain types of blogs, and reveals the content make up across the web as a whole.

It’s now live, and totally fun to play around with. Check it out now.